I. Introduction to the Psalms
A. What are the Psalms? The Psalms are a compilation of Hebrew hymns and prayers.
B. Original use The Psalms were an essential part of Israelite worship. They were worship aids in regard to activities at the temple.
C. Categories There are 150 Psalms. These Psalms were eventually classified into books:
1. Book 1 (1–41) by David
2. Book 2 (42–72) by David and sons of Korah
3. Book 3 (73–89) by Asaph
4. Book 4 (90–106) Unknown
5. Book 5 (107–150) David and unknown
D. Types of Psalms
1. Messianic (Psalm 110)
2. Praise and Thanksgiving (Psalm 9)
3. Lament (Psalms 3–7)
4. Wisdom (Psalm 73)
5. Testimonial (Psalm 30)
6. Historical (Psalm 78)
7. Nature (Psalm 8)
8. Pilgrimage (Psalm 43)
9. Imprecatory (Psalm 144) These are Psalms that express indignation against God’s enemies.
II. Principles for Interpreting the Psalms
A. Understand that the Psalms were written over a large period of time by several different authors. Unlike most of the other books of the Bible, it is not imperative (although it certainly would not hurt) that a person read through all of the Psalms before studying a particular psalm.
B. Understand that the Psalms are Hebrew musical poems and should be interpreted in light of this fact.
1. Most of the Psalms were meant to be sung not read.
2. Much of the language is figurative, hyperbolic, colorful, and emotional, not literal. When the Psalms discuss trees clapping their hands this is metaphorical not literal. When David says “Every night I make my bed swim . . . with my tears” (Ps. 6:6) he is expressing his grief in a colorful, non-literal way.
3. The Psalms speak to the heart first and then to the head.
4. The Psalms are not specific doctrinal treatises.
C. Read each Psalm as a unit and do not focus on individual verses apart from the larger context of the Psalm.
D. When studying the imprecatory psalms understand that the statements about hating God’s enemies are not violating other Scriptural commands to love our enemies. The Hebrew word for “hate” can mean “despise” or “unwilling to accept.” Even if this does refer to an emotional loathing of God’s enemies remember that the Psalms often stress one’s emotional feelings and are not a call to harm others. The New Testament stresses doing love not necessarily feeling love. The imprecatory psalms reveal emotional responses to those who are the enemies of God.